Gulnara Karimova, infamous daughter of Islam Karimov, the president of Uzbekistan, is considered by many as a potential successor to her father’s seat. When rumors about the health of Karimov spread fast throughout the Internet from the opposition groups’ websites up to “New York Times”, discussions about who will come to power next in Uzbekistan became an entertaining hot topic.
“New York Times” reports that Gulnara Karimova resigned as envoy to the United Nations in Geneva on Tuesday, that is, April 2. The paper implies she is trying to position herself for a larger role at home. Did Ms. Karimova really start her campaign toward that goal? Is she ready to be the next president of Uzbekistan?
A quick review of her recent activities and sayings does not seem to give a positive answer to these questions. It looks like she is in one of the following two situations: She does not really want to be the next president, or she does not expect her father to leave the power any time soon. Another possible scenario is that she does not know how to run for power.
Let us quickly review the factors that made me think this way.
First of all, she did not make any political move yet. Everything she did so far is related to charity and art/fashion-related activities. If we assume that Karimov might die any time soon due to his poor health, or will leave the power in the upcoming presidential election, which is scheduled to be held in early 2015, Gulnara Karimova is not yet politically ready to accept the position, or run for the elections in 2015.
You can rightly argue that anything might happen in Uzbekistan, which has no tradition of democracy. It is very possible that anyone who has money and power can assume the presidency in Uzbekistan giving zero care to democracy or legal rules.
However, all dictators seek legitimacy, at least, for the eyes of the public. For the same purpose, Gulnara Karimova is trying to show herself in the public as someone who is very kind, soft, loves children, art and cares about everyone around her. It would not please her to appear as a ruthless politician who suddenly assumes power without any legitimate bases. If she has any desire to be the next head of the state, she will try to achieve this goal without losing her current public image (Please note that by public image I mean her public appearance, not how people perceive her).
If this is the case, then one or two years is not enough for her to build an image of a strong politician who could be seen as a major contender for the leadership post. So far, she did not or does not hold any influential political position within the government structures. Her role as a deputy foreign minister at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and her diplomatic positions held abroad does not confer her any influence or real power within the political establishment of Uzbekistan.
She even does not speak Uzbek language. We never saw her saying a single word in Uzbek other than singing a couple of songs with heavy accent. The Constitution of Uzbekistan stipulates that the president should be fluent in the official language of the country. So, if she really wants to be the president, she needs to learn the official language as her father did. To master good speaking skills takes time.
Let me now go to the next assumption. Some argue that Gulnara Karimova is building her image among the masses though her non-governmental charity activities, which they see as the first step toward entering the politics. If this is true, then the current president is not going to leave the power anytime soon or until his death. If Karimova really wants to be the next president, then she apparently thinks that she has enough time to be able to do so. As I mentioned earlier, so far she did not make any serious move toward entering politics. Some observers noted that her online attack on Rustam Azimov, a deputy Prime Minister and one of the major contenders for the presidency, is a sign that she is accelerating her plans. This may be an attempt to get rid of Azimov, but does not prove that Karimova is now politically active.
The weird question is how well she is capable of running a successful presidential campaign. A Harvard-educated business lady does not seem to have a good PR team. She tweets about anything and everywhere and occasionally gets involved into debates with the critics of her father’s regime. Her writings in English are also not well-composed. It looks she does not have a well-planned strategy in her online social media engagement. Even her personal website is poorly set up and difficult to navigate. Pages do not open properly. Information on these pages does not give us an image of an aspiring political leader.
It is also interesting to see that she recently opened a blog in a platform, which is blocked inside Uzbekistan. I do not know for which purpose this blog serves. Blog template is poorly chosen. English, Russian and Uzbek entries all are placed in one category called Novosti (News in English). The quality of writings is also very bad. Facts and thoughts are very disorganized, and it is difficult to understand what she is talking about.
Does she do this deliberately to make it appear that she is writing all these tweets and blogs herself? If yes, then she is not what she tries to be like.
With the money she has, she could easily hire the best PR companies of the world to work for her. Such companies actually do not mind to work for authoritarian regimes. It seems she did not choose to opt for this way yet.
In a nutshell, Ms. Karimova is unlikely to be the next president of Uzbekistan. If his father suddenly dies, it appears she will be unable to assume the power immediately. Even if we assume that she is the most powerful person after her father in Uzbekistan, initially she will have to run the country through someone else until she becomes comfortable to assume the power herself directly.
UPDATE: The Times ran a correction on April 10: Karimova “remains an envoy to the United Nations in Geneva; she did not in fact resign in early April.”